Snowflake

Last week I mentioned a childhood favourite read: Snowflake by Paul Gallico. Oddly, the religious aspects of the story escaped me as a child. Whatever one’s belief this is such… I want to say gentle story, but I recall parts making me cry and the reading didn’t feel gentle at all. I was an infant and parts of the story left me feeling raw… and I adored every moment, the good and the bad. This is the full version read and accompanied by a song by Peter Gabriel.

Ten Memorable Titles

Someone tagged me some time ago on Facebook and again this week, so having answered this once before, I’m re-posting this. The way the game works is to list ten titles that have stayed with you. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books, and you shouldn’t think about it too long — just ten which have touched you and stayed with you. Then you nominate ten more people to play the game.

My problem was sticking to ten, and sticking to the ‘stayed with you in some way’, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as favourite books and authors.

Here, I’m including the list but with a variation on the theme adding explanations. Slight cheat — the first is two by one author, and there are a couple of trilogies.

In no particular order:

The Happy Prince/Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince read as a child, and I cried my eyes out. Well, not literally and that would be gross, but yes, I sobbed. Hey, I was like nine or younger, and the first time I heard the story, someone else read it to me. It would probably still make my lips tremble. It has everything: morality, romance, heart-wrenching pain. A Picture of Dorian Gray is just one of those stories never forgotten. As is often the case, my first awareness of this tale was the old black and white film. I didn’t get to read the book until my teens, but it’s an undeniable classic.

Gormenghast (trilogy/first two books) by Mervyn Peake

Not only a story that has touched and stayed with me, it’s one of my favourites, if not ‘the’ favourite owing to the scope of imagination, the names given to the characters, but most of all the richness of the language used, something sadly lacking in most books today.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I adore this ‘other world’ below London in this urban fantasy. For Doctor Who fans, it may interest you to know that Peter Capaldi played the Angel Islington in the 1996 television series, but it is the novelisation that stayed with me. Again, I love the names given to the characters, and the idea of an ordinary man dragged into an extraordinary world, especially one beneath London.

Wraeththu (trilogy) by Storm Constantine

This is possibly the author’s most well-known and outstanding work. A futuristic fantasy of post-apocalyptic proportions told through the eyes of three characters (one per book). The story follows Wreaththu — hermaphrodite beings who are skillful with forms of magic — and their interaction with humans. Romantic, but questioning perceptions of sexuality and people’s humanity/inhumanity to each other, there’s more going on here to those with an open mind.

Snowflake by Paul Gallico

A child’s book that I’ve seen nowhere since. I last tried searching for it about five years ago, but it wasn’t available, and I think I only found one listing for it. I have no need of an actual replacement, though mine is so old and well-read, it’s now lacking a cover and is just a very thin volume of aged yellowing pages. In short, Snowflake is born, goes on many adventures, falling in love with Raindrop and then, at the dramatic conclusion, returns to the sky. It had everything for a child — adventure, romance, and even self-sacrifice. I loved (and kept) so many of my childhood books, but this is my most-loved.

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My first ‘adventure’ for an older reader, and I’ve chosen it because it’s linked to the one good clear memory I have of my mother. She read it to me long before I could read it myself. She must have read it, at my request, about three times before I was able to take over. I still have the little burgundy covered book she gave me. Owing to her ill health, I don’t have many memories like that so her reading Tom Sawyer is priceless.

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

Only read once, but I loved this book and remember it well. Some might see it as an argument against religion, but I think more than that it illustrates what man can do to each other using religion as an excuse. I especially like the story behind the book, that everyone turned it down, so Jill Paton Walsh self-published when it was much harder to do than it is now. It won a Booker prize — before they changed the rules to disallow self-published titles.

The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

It was a close call between this and I Am Legend, but this just pips it for me. My first memory of the story was once again the old black and white movie. Who can forget the battle with the giant spider? Some love spiders, some hate them, some have this strange love/hate affinity with them. I think their webs are beautiful and amazing. The spider is incredible. I just don’t want to come across one unexpectedly. In short, my earliest recollections were of that chill down one’s spine at the thought of battling a giant spider. I hadn’t read the book until recently, and likely had a preconceived notion of what to expect. The book, though accurate to the film, differs vastly in that it’s more emotional. I didn’t expect to experience so many emotions, including such sadness spliced with sympathy for the main character, in what many assume is a horror story.

Nocturnes by John Connolly

I like John Connolly’s work. I’m often perplexed by how he seems to break so many ‘rules’, particularly with his Charlie Parker novels — including both first and third person viewpoints, and even telling the story omnipresently when relating something that happened in the past. Not all writers can even manage point of view changes successfully, but it seems to suit his style, his ‘voice’. I included Nocturnes because I was surprised to come across a collection of short stories with gothic influences. They are both olde-worlde and new.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the sequel The Starlight Barking. Yes, 101 had a sequel, and I have both books. I Capture the Castle has one of the best opening sentences. As John Steinbeck’s end to Of Mice and Men is startling, the most memorable thing about Dodie Smith’s first novel for adults has always been the line that begins, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Reads of 2015

If I thought my reading list the last couple of years was pitiful, this year has been atrocious, but there are a few worth mentioning.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes is a must for any fan of The Princess Bride if only for the many reminiscences and stories behind the scenes of the cast. I finally read J.K.Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy with high hopes, yet I’m unsure how I feel about this book. I can appreciate the story, but the style was a little too much tell rather than show for me. I didn’t watch the television series because I have heard they insisted on a rather more upbeat ending. Not having the series to compare to the book, all I can say is I have no reservations about the end. It’s a consistently bleak book, but not all stories need to be promising.

I read all the Dexter volumes being a fan of the series and had no problem separating the stories from the show. As many things are similar as they are different. I’m making the rare choice here in preferring the show. The series did far more with the character.

I cannot recap on this year’s reads without mentioning The Forgotten Son by Andy Frankham-Allen, the first of a series of Lethbridge-Stewart books ‘The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame’. A good opening setting for a well-loved character. I have reviewed the book and will repost that review sometime in the new year.

The Fault in Our Stars was a surprising read, far more poignant than I expected it to be while A New York Winter’s Tale left me wondering whether I’d read something incredible, audacious, or ultimately aimless and futile. I’ve such mixed feelings over the book that I really cannot decide and maybe in that the book served the writer’s intention. It’s neither a romance nor a steampunk fantasy though it put me in mind of one. The only recommendation I can make is to read the book and discard the movie that is a truly poor adaptation of a far-more-complex story.

I finally caught up on George R.R.Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ novels and like so many await more releases. Daughter of Ashes, by Esther Mitchell, is worth a mention for the world-building.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, L.Joseph Shosty’s book Old Wine & Black Hearts. The title and the cover had me already, appealing to the Dark Fiction themes I enjoy. The contents were an odd but pleasant surprise because there’s no way to anticipate these stories. The book is divided into two sections. Old Wine contains an eclectic mix of the bizarre and disturbing. I thought the first story in the collection the weakest, but it proved to be a more gentle introduction into an unorthodox selection of unpredictable tales. A couple of favourites are Strings, which has a deeper layer and could mean different things to different people while They Burned Old Ben has a thread of dark humour that’s unsettling.

A Sincere Warning About The Entity in Your Home, by Jason Arnopp, is a short release of a semi-predictable horror story but told in a way that captured my interest. I’d never heard of the writer before, but his resume and style will have me looking up more of his work.

So I end the year on Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn…another book that has left me with mixed feelings. I don’t like books told in the first person as much as third especially when more than one viewpoint is used and perhaps owing to this for the first third of the book it didn’t really work for me. The character presented in her early diary entries was so instantly unlikable I didn’t care what had happened to her, was merely curious. Perhaps the writer in me kept me reading because I had several theories. I don’t want to give away the story so it’s easier to keep to the impression I’m left with. This is a story about two complex but unlikable people who deserved each other, which doesn’t seem like the basis for a good novel; however, it’s clever and thought-provoking. Definitely, one that when read you want to discuss. Unfortunately, it also has one of the worst sentences I’ve come across in such an acclaimed book; had I written such a sentence and not edited it out, any one of my editors would have had me walking on hot coals. I keep thinking it has to be an error, but I have a sad feeling it’s not.

As always, hoping to do better with my reading this coming year.

All I Want for Christmas

Posting a day late this week because the house refurbishment hit a glitch that meant we worked until ten in the evening. On that note…all I want for Christmas is peace and quiet, and a much-needed rest.

Here’s a different version of the song. Chase Holfelder is known for re-working songs in a different key with amazing results. All I Want for Christmas is no exception. Maybe a little creepy, but definitely haunting.

Wishing everyone peace.